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With the news that Tibet Autonomous Region has now reopened to visitors already in China, I have put together this guide on some of the top places to visit in Tibet; also known as “the roof of the world”.
For those outside of China wishing to see the beautiful scenery of Tibet, at present, it looks like 2022 will be the earliest opportunity. Of course, this blog will be updated as soon as things change!
What are some of the most famous Tibet Landmarks?
- Potala Palace
- Drepung Monastery
- Sera Monastry
- Yamdrok Lake
- Namtso Lake
- Mount Kailash
- Karola Glacier
- Rongbuk Monastery
- Everest Base Camp
How to Visit Tibet
The only way for foreigners to visit Tibet is to take a tour. There are many different types of tours with differing itineraries, so you must first decide which Tibet tourist attractions you wish to see.
How much does a Tibet Tour Cost?
Most small group tours are between five and 15 days and cost from $450 upwards. Below are some examples from experiencetibet.org (who I went with and can highly recommend)!
- 4 Day Lhasa Tour – $450
- 5 Day Lhasa & Yamdrok Lake Tour – $650
- 8 Day Lhasa and Everest Base Camp Tour – $850
- 10 Day Lhasa, Everest and Namtso Lake Tour – $1200
- 15 Day Mount Kailash Tour – $1,850
Permits for Tibet
In addition to a Chinese visa, you will need a Tibet Travel Permit to visit the region. If you plan on visiting Everest Base Camp then you will need an additional permit. The good news is that your tour company will apply for the permits on your behalf. All you need to do is submit a copy of your passport and Chinese visa.
Getting to Tibet
The best way to reach Lhasa is via the legendary Qinghai Express Tibet Train which runs on the highest railway line in the world. The Xining to Lhasa train is one of the most scenic train trips in the world and the views are simply staggering.
You will see yaks grazing at the foot of the mighty Himalayan Mountains, eagles soaring on thermals above and otherworldly landscapes covered in snow. In addition to the beautiful scenery in Tibet, the train stops at Tanggula which is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the highest railway station in the world!
Taking the train can also help with acclimatisation as you reach the Tibetan Plateau over time, rather than straight from sea level by plane.
The journey from Xining to Lhasa takes 22 hours. See below table for ticket prices:
- Hard Seat ¥224.00 ($35)
- Hard Sleeper ¥521.00 ($80)
- Soft Sleeper ¥808.00 ($125)
You can purchase an e-ticket up to 30 days in advance via Trip.com.
More Info: How to Take the Xining to Lhasa Train
What to Visit in Tibet?
When looking at a Tibet tour you should think about what you want to see. Some of the most popular Tibet tourist attractions include the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Yamdrok Lake and Everest Base Camp.
Places to Visit in Tibet – Lhasa
Lhasa is the capital city of the Tibetan Autonomous Region and is one of the must-see places to visit in Tibet. The city sits at a height of 3,656 metres (11,990 feet) on the Tibetan Plateau.
The city has plenty of interesting monasteries and temples to explore, including the unmissable Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, Sera Monastery and Drepung Monastery.
The bustling centre of Lhasa city is rich with markets and craft shops selling traditional Tibetan items such as prayer flags and incense. Most tours of Tibet will include Lhasa on the itinerary!
The Potala Palace is one of the most iconic landmarks in Asia. Perched atop a hill high above the city, the white, orange and crimson structure commands attention from wherever you are. Potala was first constructed in 1645 with the Red Palace following in 1694.
A visit to Potala should take around three hours. There are 432 steps to climb to reach the palace and you should go slowly due to the altitude. Inside you will be able to marvel at the myriad temples, carvings and original facades.
Tickets cost ¥200 ($30) but this should be included within your tour of Tibet.
The Drepung Monastery clings to a mountainside a little outside of Lhasa with striking views across the city and mountains in the distance. Drepung is considered one of the most sacred places in Tibet along with the Sera Monastery.
The temple complex is the largest in Tibet and includes many stupas (Buddhist monuments), shrines, statues and places of learning. There is also a canteen serving both the resident monks and guests. A meal costs ¥40 ($6) and meat and vegetarian options are available.
Along with Drepung, the Sera Monastery is one of the most important places of learning for Tibetan Buddhism. Here you will find monks engaged in vigorous arguments (more question and answer sessions) as they demonstrate and hone their faith. It is quite an incredible sight to behold!
The Jokhang Temple which is located in the centre of Lhasa is the most important religious building to Tibetans. The Temple is designed in a style that incorporates Tibetan, Nepalese and Indian influences. Outside Jokhang, you will find many worshipers praying.
Barkhor is a bustling market street in the centre of the city close to Jokhang Temple. Here you will find traditional Tibetan restaurants (yak meat is a staple), art and craft shops and shops selling items such as incense and prayer flags.
Chongsaikang Tashi Market
Chongsaikang Tashi is the oldest market in Lhasa (dating back as far as 1727)! Here you will find traders of all descriptions and prices are lower than on Barkhor Street! A great place to pick up a rug or tapestry of the Potala Palace!
Places to Visit in Tibet – Yamdrok Lake
Yamdrok translates as “turquoise” and it’s easy to see why this sacred lake has its name. The lake lies around 100km south of Lhasa and is a usual stop on any Everest Base Camp Tour. Yamdrok Lake is one of three large, holy lakes in Tibet and stretches for 70km beneath snow-capped mountains.
In the distance, you can see Mount Nojing Kangstan which is used by mountaineers to practice for Everest. Before reaching the lake, you will transcend the Kangbala Pass at 5,050 metres (16,568 feet) from where you can view the lake in all its glory!
It is usual to spot yaks by the lake and locals take this as an opportunity to earn a few Yuan by letting you take a photograph with one.
Places to Visit in Tibet – Namtso Lake
Namtso Lake is another of Tibet’s holy lakes located to the north of Lhasa. The lake sits at 4,700 metres (15,400 feet) and is famed for its crystal-clear waters making it one of the most beautiful places in Tibet.
Places to Visit in Tibet – Gyantse
Gyantse is a small yet charming town between Lhasa and Shigatse. It is notable for its large hill fort dating to the time of the Raj, where British and Indian soldiers helped to train the Tibetan officers (the border with India is less than 100km away).
Gyantse is home to the Pelkor Monastery (sometimes spelt Palcho) which is home to the largest stupa in Tibet. The large cylindrical monument can be climbed and offers some stunning views of the fortress and plateau.
Gyantse Dzong (Fortress)
The impressive Gyantse Dzong fortress sits perched atop a large rocky outcrop and is reminiscent of the Potala Palace in Lhasa (though it has always been a military site, not religious). The fortress dates back to the 1300s. The fort was taken over by the British in 1904 during the “British Expedition to Tibet”.
Just 300 metres from the main Lhasa to Shigatse Highway is the enormous Karola Glacier. The glacier sits at an elevation of 5,560 metres (18,241 feet) and there is a small viewing area and car park.
Rongbuk Monastery is a small temple sitting in the shadow of the mighty Everest. It is the highest such monastery on earth at an elevation of 5,009 metres (16,433 feet). Built in 1902, Rongbuk was an important pilgrimage site for Sherpas on their way to Everest. You will usually find yaks grazing close by.
Places to Visit in Tibet – Everest Base Camp
Mount Everest is one of the highlights of any Tibet tour and unlike in Nepal where it takes at least ten days of trekking, you can visit EBC Tibet by road. The exact elevation is 5,200 metres (17,060 feet) making it the highest point on any Tibet tour.
Most Everest Base Camp Tours will include a night spent in accommodation at the foot of the mountain and you can do a small base camp trek. The rooms are very basic and very cold (any water bottles left out will be frozen solid by morning). Seeing the stars above Everest is a picture that is priceless and is absolutely THE top place to visit in Tibet!
Read More: Tibet Everest Base Camp Tour
Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon
The Yarlung Tsangpo is the longest river in Tibet and the ninth longest in the world. The river crosses India, Bangladesh and Tibet and is a tributary of the Ganges. The Yarlung Tsangpo Canyon is the largest in the world (not the Grand Canyon in America as many think) at 504.6km long. It is also the deepest canyon in the world!
Places to Visit in Tibet – Mount Kailash
6,638 metre (21,778 ft) Mt Kailash is a holy Mountain located in western Tibet and an important place of Buddhist pilgrimage. Visiting Kailash is not included on most Tibet tours as it is far off the beaten track, but if you have the time and money, is well worth visiting!
Is Tibet a Good Place to Travel?
Tibet is an incredible place to travel. It is a shame that it must be on a tour and one cannot explore freely. Perhaps one day. However, this unique, mystic and ancient land is one of the most amazing places in the world and should be a must-visit for any serious traveller.
About the author: Steve Rohan, originally from England, has lived in China for over six years. He has lived in the frozen city of Harbin, the ancient capital of Luoyang and now resides in the tropical paradise of Sanya on Hainan Island.
He has travelled extensively across Europe and Asia, mostly by train, and has written about his travels for this blog as well as self-publishing his first book, Siberian Odyssey.